These days, you’ll hardly see a single celebrity out on the red carpet without a little boost from a weave, a clip-in or a full set of heat-bonded luscious locks. Hair extensions are in! It’s no wonder that they are so popular, as their versatility means they can fix almost every hair crisis and transform your look overnight.
With extensions, you can add length and volume. You can have waves, curls, ringlets, a ponytail, highlights, lowlights or just a single vibrant flash of color. Clip-ons can deliver temporary drama for a single special event, or you can invest in micro-bonded extensions to keep your look going for a more long-term solution.
Hair extensions date back to Ancient Egypt around 3400 BC, and it’s still going strong. It’s not just celebrities either. According to recent research, over a third of women use hair extensions as a regular part of their beauty regime, and nearly all of them keep it a secret. So, if you’re considering getting extensions, you’re in good company.
With so many options, it can be tricky to know what to ask for and what to expect when you go to the salon. Whether you’re an extension novice or you’ve been wearing them for years, read on to get all the essential information you need before you go.
GET THE RIGHT TYPE OF EXTENSION FOR YOU
There are six main types of hair extensions. The one you choose will depend on your lifestyle, your current hairstyle, how long you want to commit to extensions and how much you want to spend. A good stylist can provide advice about which type of extensions are a good choice for you.
Clip-ins are the one-night stands of the hair extension world. They are ideal if you want to experiment with a high-drama ‘do for a wedding or a party or simply to wear for the evening.
Each clip-in looks like a tiny comb or barrette with a length of hair attached. They usually come in sets or sometimes as one continuous row that goes from ear-to-ear rather like a hairband. They are ideal for novices as you can put them in and take them out yourself with no need to visit the salon. As no heat, sewing or chemicals are used, there is little danger of any damage to your scalp or hair.
If you have short hair, clip-ins may not be the best choice as the clips are likely to be visible. Even with slightly longer hair, placing the clips so they don’t show can take a little practice. However, clip-ins are usually a cost-effective choice and, with proper care, can last for up to two years.
Offering a little more commitment than a clip-in but still essentially temporary, glue-in extensions will be attached to your scalp using a liquid adhesive. A few days later, these can be removed using a solvent.
Just as they sound, tape-ins consist of lengths of hair (sometimes called wefts) sandwiched between strong double-sided tape that sticks onto the roots of your hair. The benefit of tape-ins over clip-ins is that once attached, tape-ins remain in place for eight to twelve weeks. Although having tape in your hair sounds a little odd, tape-ins are difficult to see or feel and are therefore a good choice if you have very fine or blonde hair.
If you choose tape-ins, you need to allow around 36 hours after your visit to the salon for the glue to cure properly. That means no hair washing, visits to the gym or anything else that might make your hair slippery or oily. The risk is that the tapes could slip away from the roots of your hair and down the hair shafts.
Tape-ins are quickly gaining in popularity because they are affordable and relatively kind to your hair and scalp. The other major benefit of tape-ins is that the extensions can be removed and re-used, making it possible to invest in higher-quality extensions with the assurance that you’ll be able to use them for a fairly long period.
You might have heard some extensions referred to as a weave, which is just another name for sew-in extensions. For these types of extensions, the hair stylist creates cornrows in your hair. The extensions are then sewn directly to the cornrows and, just like tape-ins, will last for around eight weeks.
Sew-ins are suitable for nearly all types of hair and come in a huge variety of styles, colors and textures, making them a popular choice. However, unlike tape-ins, sew-in extensions are a one-shot deal and cannot be re-used.
Keratin-bonded extensions work by fusing the ends of the extension to your hair with keratin bonds, created either by heat or ultrasound. These types of extensions are durable and can be treated just like your natural hair. The extensions will look their best for at least three to four months. Different than sew-ins, keratin-bonded extensions may be able to be used again, but cannot be guaranteed based on how the tips of the hair dissolve when removed.
Micro-beads are usually one of the more expensive forms of hair extensions, but they can last up to a full year. They work well for both long and short hair and create a very natural effect.
The stylist will attach small sections of hair to the roots of your natural hair using a tiny metal bead that is lined with silicone. The bead is compressed to create a firm bond. No heat or chemicals are used with this type of hair extension.
Regular follow-up salon visits are essential with these, however, as the beads can occasionally slip down the hair shaft. Unlike some other types of extensions, micro-bead extensions may be able to be used multiple times depending on the integrity of the tip after wear.
QUALITY IS KEY
The quality of the hair used in your extensions is the most critical factor in how good they will look and how easy they will be to care for. So it is worth doing your research and spending a little extra to ensure you are getting the best quality you can afford.
Hair extensions can be made of both human and synthetic hair. Synthetic hair extensions are the most cost-effective. However, synthetic hair can look a little too shiny and unnatural, tends to tangle easily and may be too delicate for using heated appliances like hair-dryers or curling tongs.
Human hair can cost five or six times as much as synthetic hair. It comes in a variety of qualities, depending on how much it has previously been processed or treated.
Poor quality hair may become brittle, lose its shine and start shedding more quickly than higher-quality hair.
The very best quality hair has not been processed or chemically treated in any way and has cuticles that are all aligned in the same direction. Assuming you choose a weight and texture of hair similar to your natural hair, these extensions will behave almost identically to your own. You’ll be able to style it, curl it and straighten it just like your natural hair.
If you’re considering investing in higher-quality human hair, it’s highly advisable to consult a stylist who can help you choose the best product for your style and budget.
GET CREATIVE WITH STYLE AND COLOR
Once you determine the type of hair extension you want, the fun really begins. This is the time to consider the variety of options available with the color and style. You can make your wildest hair-do fantasies a reality.
Fancy cascades of pre-Raphaelite red ringlets? No problem. How about tumbling midnight waves? A snap. A luscious, wrist-thick, scandi-style braid? Piece of cake. With extensions, you can create whatever look you’ve been secretly yearning for. And if you just want a little extra volume, some instant bangs or a rebellious flash of turquoise, you can do that, too.
Extensions come in a huge variety of colors, weights, lengths and textures, so you’re sure to find something that works for you. It’s important your extensions are well-matched to the weight and strength of your natural hair, or the new tresses may feel and look too heavy and place too much stress on the roots.
If the color is off even by a shade or two, it will be obvious you’ve wearing extensions. If you’re not going for a color change, you’ll want to choose a careful mix of shades for your extensions to blend with your natural color. A great tip is to match to the color at the ends of your hair, rather than to the color at the roots.
Finally, texture. There are four main hair textures — straight, wavy, curly and kinky — and a surprisingly large number of variations within each type. You’ll get the best results if you let an extension professional help you match your hair texture in person.
BE SURE YOU CAN COMMIT TO MAINTAINING YOUR TRESSES
Just like your own hair, extensions need to be washed regularly, and your salon can recommend suitable products that are free of parabens and sulfates. Treating your extensions gently when you wash, dry and style them will prolong their life and beauty.
Take clip-ins out before you wash them and comb them through. Then just wash them in the sink with a gentle shampoo and conditioner, pat with a towel and let them air dry.
For other types of extensions, wash and condition them along with your natural hair, but only condition from midway down the hair shaft. Detangle gently with your fingers before you use a brush, and start at the ends of your hair rather than the roots. If you can, try to avoid tugging or yanking at the extensions while brushing. Wait until your hair is almost dry before using any heated styling products and avoid applying any direct heat to areas that have been joined or bonded.
Finally, it’s generally recommended you tie or braid your hair up loosely before you go to bed to prevent tangles.
CHOOSE A SALON AND STYLIST WISELY
Most reputable salons will offer you the option to come in for a consultation before booking the appointment for your extensions. This will give you a chance to talk about what you are hoping for and to agree on which approach and products will be used. Look out for a salon that offers a variety of different extension types so they can advise you on the best choice for your hair and desired style.
The stylist should be experienced in working with the specific type of extensions you’ll be getting. Damage to the hair and scalp as a result of extensions is nearly always related to the way they are put in or taken out, so it’s crucial you have confidence in the stylist you choose. Check out the customer reviews and any before and after shots for your chosen salon and ask for recommendations from friends, colleagues and family.
A good stylist will ask you questions about your lifestyle and make custom recommendations based on the information you share. For example, if you do practice sports that make you hot and sweaty, your stylist may advise against tape-ins. If you wear glasses, they may avoid placing extensions where the arms of the frames lie against your head.
Don’t be surprised if you are offered a dry cut as part of your extension appointment. Cutting your hair once the extensions have been attached is an essential step to ensure the overall effect looks as natural as possible. A good stylist may also suggest putting in some layers to blend the two types of hair seamlessly.
Finally, some types of hair extension can take several hours to attach and may also require regular return visits to the salon. Be sure to choose a stylist who is talented and outgoing to make the experience fun and enjoyable!